An estimated 70-80 percent of Adventist college-aged young people attend a non-Adventist institution of higher learning. While proponents of Adventist education encourage young adults to attend one of 13 Adventist colleges and universities across the North American Division (NAD), many make a different choice for a variety of reasons. This is a sizable demographic in our church who have unique spiritual needs that we must meet while they are on secular campuses in our communities. In addition, rightly cultivated and utilized, their presence at these schools opens doors for the Adventist message of hope and wholeness to go into all the world and reach people who might not ever attend an Adventist church or evangelistic series.
In 1891, Ellen G. White warned Adventist students attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor that they “must receive Jesus as their personal Saviour or they will build upon the sand, and their foundation will be swept away.” She also encouraged them to maintain “humble, daily trust in God,” and to “let Jesus be revealed to those with whom you associate” (Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 233).
“The college campus is a tremendous mission field,” says Ron Pickell, NAD coordinator for Adventist Christian Fellowship (ACF). Organized as an official NAD ministry in 2005, ACF is a student-organized and student-led campus ministry that helps Adventist students connect with each other while attending school on a secular campus and provides a recognized, on-campus vehicle for them to reach non-Adventists.
In 2015, Tracy Wood, NAD Youth Ministries director, was named director of Public Campus Ministries (PCM)—a movement geared toward inspiring, educating, and equipping Seventh-day Adventist students on non-Adventist campuses to be ambassadors and missionaries of Christ on campus. PCM is the ministry arm of the church to connect the church, campus, and community.
The question has been asked: Why support a ministry to students on non-Adventist campuses when we have our own schools that they should be attending? Isn’t this competition? Pickell says that these questions are answered in the ACF vision statement: “Reach the campus—change the world!” In addition to connecting with fellow Adventists, an ACF chapter is identified by the school as a “legitimate campus ministry fellowship among other student groups,” which provides “many campus privileges,” such as the use of campus facilities, institutional recognition, and, in some cases, partial funding generated by student fees—all used to help solidify the faith of Adventist students while revealing and glorifying God in a largely secular setting.
Each ACF chapter is part of what Pickell describes as a “three-legged stool” consisting first of students and the ACF chapter; the local church, which provides a church base with financial support, prayer, meeting space, and spiritual guidance; and the church organization—conference, union, division, and world church—which provides training, resources, and leadership development.
The Yale ACF on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, works closely with the New Haven church and the Mount Zion church in nearby Hamburg. (The churches are in Southern New England Conference and Northeastern Conference, respectively.) Mpilo Norris, Yale ACF president/director for undergraduate students, is actively involved at Mount Zion and is often a youth speaker for various church services and programs. “It ends up being a symbiotic relationship,” says Norris. “[The students] provide a youth population for the church, and the church supports us, as well, whether it is through funding for some of the events we want to put on at the school, or even through providing lunch after church, or other activities for us to do.” Norris also uses his connections at Yale to provide speakers or contacts for special events held by the church.
Endri Misho serves as PCM coordinator for the Southern New England Conference (SNEC) and is also the Adventist chaplain for Harvard University. When an ACF cannot be formed because there are not enough Adventist students attending that institution, or perhaps an Adventist is not a part of the faculty at that school, Misho acts as a liaison. SNEC PCM is part of the Youth Ministries department, and together they help the students connect with other Adventist students through activities and events.
During the pandemic, while many students are taking classes online and missing in-person interaction, Misho tries to stay in contact by meeting with them for a socially-distanced lunch, providing online “study breaks,” and scheduling virtual “Friday-night gatherings”—all activities that give students opportunities to hang out, talk about their week, pray together, and share testimonies. “These one-on-one times are so important, and they are things that a local church can do,” says Misho.
Pickell emphasizes that not having an existing ACF chapter should not deter students from forming a group on campus. He says that “by listening to the Holy Spirit’s promptings, by praying to be a blessing to someone, and asking God to lead,” the way will be formed for God to expand your influence and lead others into the fellowship.
“We have some campuses in our conference that are doing some really great things,” says Ingrid Pierre, PCM volunteer coordinator for the Northeastern Conference, who also assists the Atlantic Union Adventist Youth Ministries with PCM. Pierre lists Stony Brook University, Columbia University, and the University at Albany—all in New York—as a few among several campuses across their territory with an active Adventist presence, although they may not currently have official ACF chapters.
Pierre and Misho are working on creating databases for their conferences where Adventist students attending non-Adventist schools, as well as Adventist faculty and staff employed at secular college/university campuses, can sign up and search for other Adventists at their school (or nearby schools) to make social connections, learn about events and activities, and join forces in ministry.
Pierre points out that turnover is very high for ACF chapters, as students graduate or may transfer to another school. Misho adds that chapter charters may also expire during times of transition. Churches can help in this vein because they often have a continuous, established presence in the community and are a natural point where new students can connect when starting at a new school. Forming relationships with the college/university in their area, and ministering to students who frequent the church, may assist a budding PCM group to maintain a presence and provide leverage in its bid to form, or resurrect, an ACF chapter on the campus.
Pierre encourages congregations to get involved and find the students in their churches attending non-Adventist colleges and universities. “The more we stay connected to our young adults who are in [public] colleges, and assist them in any way we can, the more life we are going to give our church,” Pierre says. “If we stay connected to them, they will stay connected to us. They will use, and want to use, their talents in creative ways to further the work of Christ.”